Last year I received an email from a woman named Tara. She’d just written a book about productivity for women, and she was contacting me to inquire if I’d read her manuscript and write a blurb for the back of the book. Normally, unless I know the person or are familiar already with their work, I turn down such inquiries. I get them a lot, and mostly I just don’t have the time. But something intrigued me about Tara’s request, so I took a quick peek at her manuscript. I knew after reading the first few paragraphs, that I needed to explore this book further.
I’m a person who literally battles with productivity — and not because I’m unproductive. I battle because my notions about what it means to be productive are far beyond what I can typically accomplish in a day. So I end most days feeling overwhelmed, inept and without a sense of closure. Then, I get up the next day, and I do it all over again. I often put off the stuff I long to do for “when I have time.” I’m often so singularly focused on making my way through my to-do list that I even experience periods when even my work (which is making art, should be fun, right?) feels like wading through thick, waist-deep mud. Time feels scarce and spending time doing what I look forward to most becomes something I’ll do “when I have time” (aka: never anytime soon!).
So when I began reading Tara’s manuscript, my first reaction was: “She’s talking about me! She’s talking to me!” Tara — a former Getting Things Done guru — writes about her own difficult but enlightening journey from stressed out workaholic toward becoming a woman who has a healthy relationship with time. The work she did to redefine the notion of time and productivity for herself combined with evidence based research on time and productivity are the foundations for the book. She lays out a number of basic principles and actionable exercises that are intended help other women think and act in new ways to lead lives filled with more equanimity and joy.
I took the manuscript with me to a residency last August and decided then and there as I read it that I had to forge a new path in my own relationship to my “crazy busy schedule.” Getting myself “unburied” is something I’ve been working on for years (and have even written about on this blog). I’ve found Tara’s work extremely helpful in that quest. I still have a long way to go, but the small changes I’ve made already (some in my actions, some simply in how I view time), have been life altering.
The blurb I ended up writing for Tara? You can see it here:
I sat down with Tara last week and asked her about time and productivity and the ideas in her new book. If you struggle with your relationship with time (and productivity) I hope you will read this interview and take a look at Tara’s new book, Sexy + Soul-full.
I present to you my latest in my Interviews with People I Admire series: an interview with Tara Rodden Robinson.
Lisa: Hello, and thank you for sharing with us today! What makes your guide to productivity different than anything else that’s out there?
Tara: Sexy + Soul-full is a fully feminine, heart-felt approach to productivity. Nowhere will you find anyone else who speaks about topics like shame and wonder, infertility and career change, menopause and self care in a book on productivity! I intentionally shared my own story because I want my readers to see the authentic struggles that all women, including myself, go through. Ultimately, I want women to feel empowered to claim their loves—their dreams, aspirations, joys, and relationships—and to possess the skills and know-how to make time for those loves, unapologetically and joyfully.
Another thing that sets Sexy + Soul-full apart is it’s a quirky mix of right-brained creativity with a tasty helping of left-brained research geekery. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of who I am as a person. My often counter-intuitive productivity advice is drawn from actual scientific studies. That means the reader gets fresh, evidence-based approaches to solving the time crunch problem rather than just another tired rehash of tips and tricks that provide only temporary relief.
Lisa: Who is this book for?
Tara: It’s is for any woman who wants to make time for what she loves and the relationships that mean the most to her. My readers include everyone from working moms, women going back to school, mid-career executives, creative entrepreneurs, artists, and retirees who are looking for the next big adventure for the second half of their lives.
Tara: I’m not sure that women struggle more than men in their relationship with time but there’s good evidence that most women carry substantially greater workloads than men do. Among heterosexual couples, on average, the woman works twice as many hours at home doing chores and childcare than the man does. Even among couples where both help, women still carry a greater burden of the workload than men do.
I’m not a social scientist so I can’t really speak to what the roots of this lingering inequality are, but the demands on women’s time are quite different. My hypothesis is that some of this arises from differences in what men and women prioritize. Men tend to prioritize work, competition, and status seeking while women generally place a higher value on relationships, collaboration, and care taking.
Certainly, women have expectations of themselves that men don’t. We are often socialized to be pleasing to others, making it harder for us to set boundaries on our time and to say ‘no.’ Many women struggle with perfectionism and identify themselves with their accomplishments. Drawing self-worth from achievement has obvious implications for how we spend our time.
Lisa: Most of us can relate to this idea that we’ll get to the stuff we really want to do later – when we have “more time.” You believe that this idea of scarcity around time is actually false – that, in fact, it’s a myth! Tell us why that’s true & how changing our relationship to time can allow us to live with more equanimity.
Tara: Yes, the notion “I will have more time later” is the first of the three destructive myths about time that I identify in the book. This is one of most common beliefs about time that, deep down, everyone knows isn’t true! It’s easy to fall into this trap because “now” is clearly so full of demands but if you look at your calendar far enough in the future, your schedule probably looks pretty open. When those dates roll around, though, you’re just a busy then as you were in the past.
The bigger lie is that of scarcity. I learned to reject scarcity by reading Lynne Twist’s incredible book, The Soul of Money. Twist points out that our entire society is in the grip of this notion that there’s not enough to go around. But when we start to examine the underlying assumptions of that belief, it just doesn’t hold water. I won’t go into all of Twist’s arguments here, but suffice it to say, her book rocked my world.
As a result, I came to realize that the entire field of personal productivity is rooted in this lie of scarcity. The presupposition is that time is scarce, there is not enough of you to go around, and you must scratch and claw to get enough of the finite resource of time. But the truth is: Time is an infinitely renewable and inexhaustibly abundant resource. Not only that, but our brains actually create our experiences of time! Armed with that knowledge, I came to realize it’s possible to have a sustainable, unrushed lifestyle that includes a much more spacious relationship with time.
Lisa: You know I’m a big goal setter. Explain the difference between traditional goal-setting and making what you call a “heart-centered plan” for your life?
Tara: As I say in the book, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with goal-setting. Part of my problem with the way goals are usually set out is that the result is so binary: you failed or you succeeded. Life, on the other hand, is this heady mix of lessons, joys, disappointments, progress, and luck. What I know for sure is we can control our efforts but we can’t control our outcomes. So instead of getting fixated on desired results, I suggest focusing attention on making sincere and devoted effort and receiving results—all of them—with gratitude. I wanted to present an alternative way of making plans that acknowledged how richly textured life actually is.
Lisa: Most of us would say that love is our highest priority, but our choices and actions do not bear that out. What does it really mean to live with love as your highest priority? What do we have to give up to get there? What do we gain?
Tara: I think we often over-prioritize things that, in the long run, don’t really matter. When I was a university professor, I would watch colleagues falling all over themselves to reach for the next accomplishment when they hadn’t even celebrated the last one. I was like that, too—I put career achievement ahead of everything: having kids, caring for my health, investing in relationships. I finally realized that my achievements weren’t going to provide any comfort to me when I was at the end of my life. My relationships, on the other hand, clearly have lasting significance and meaning. So part of the answer about living with love as the highest priority is about investing ourselves in our relationships with family and friends.
The other piece of piece of the puzzle is actually doing what we say we care about doing. Years ago, I interviewed novelist Susan Straight and something she told me has always stuck with me. She writes all her novels on little scraps of paper in teensy found moments throughout the day. She’s written nine books! She cares about being a novelist and she walks her talk by prioritizing writing. Most people have space in their days like this to invest themselves in something they find meaningful. Even if it’s a small action, those small actions accumulate.
In terms of what we have to give up, it’s a bit paradoxical but sometimes it’s about letting go of our own priorities. I know it sounds weird but my own experience bears this out. When I’m too hooked into having my own way and holding onto my time as precious, I become impatient and selfish. One of the counter-intuitive bits of advice I give in the book is to learn how to welcome interruptions with gratitude. There’s research behind this approach but my insights on it originally came from being a caregiver for my elderly mom. I found that when I welcome unexpected events (even the really hard ones) with gratitude, my heart stays open and I experience equanimity. I’m more resilient and more generous. Someday, when my mom is no longer living, I know being like this will mean even more to me than it does now.
Ultimately, I think we gain a life well-lived. One of my friends paid me a huge compliment a while back. She said that I was someone who was fully present for my life, not just going through the motions, but really engaged and really alive. There are no guarantees, obviously, but I’d rather bet on love and put my best effort toward love as my highest priority.
Lisa: Thank you so much for sharing your book with the world, Tara! You can find Tara’s book here or wherever books are sold.